Coronavirus Has Lifted Leaders Everywhere. Don’t Expect That to Last.



Emile Ducke for The New York Times

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BRUSSELS — President Emmanuel Macron, never very popular, has touched his highest approval ratings in France since the onset of the coronavirus. As Italy has been devastated, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has hit a remarkable 71 percent, up 27 points. Even in Britain, where Prime Minister Boris Johnson waffled over a strong response, then became seriously ill himself, the government is the most popular in decades.

布鲁塞尔——自冠状病毒暴发以来,始终不是很受欢迎的埃曼纽尔·马克龙(Emmanuel Macron)总统在法国的支持率达到了最高。意大利惨遭疫情肆虐之际,总理朱塞佩·孔特(Giuseppe Conte)的支持率上涨27%,达到惊人的71%。甚至在英国,首相鲍里斯·约翰逊(Boris Johnson)起初对强制应对措施犹豫不决,后来自己患上重症,他的政府成了几十年来最受欢迎的一届。

There is nothing like a good crisis to get diverse populations to rally around their leaders. When people are confused and afraid, they tend to trust their governments, because to think that the authorities are themselves confused and afraid, let alone incompetent, is too much to bear.


The question is whether that will last once the crisis eases, criticism mounts and normal politics resumes. Usually, it does not last long. Formal inquiries into the inevitable errors and mistakes soon follow, and voters, if allowed, often take their revenge, even on the most effective leaders.


And it is safe to say that many of those getting a boost for the moment have been less than effective, judging by the crushing toll of a virus impervious to partisan bluster and unforgiving of mistakes.


The uncertainties may best be demonstrated in the United States, where President Trump, in a highly charged election year, got only a small bump up that did not last, given widespread ambivalence about how the White House has handled the pandemic.


“The initial instinct is to rally around the flag, because it is seen as unpatriotic and unhelpful not to do so,” said Mark Leonard, director of the European Council on Foreign Relations. “But societies can’t be mobilized in perpetuity. There’s inevitably a fatigue, and people will ask more difficult questions.”

“最初的本能是集结国家力量,因为不这样做会被看作是不爱国而且是无益的,”欧洲对外关系委员会(European Council on Foreign Relations)主任马克·莱昂纳德(Mark Leonard)说。“但是,社会不能永久动员下去。人们不可避免地会感到疲倦,会提出更棘手的问题。”

George Robertson, the former NATO secretary-general and British defense secretary, put it bluntly: “People do rally around, but it evaporates fast.”

前北约秘书长兼英国国防部长乔治·罗伯逊(George Robertson)坦言:“人们是会团结一心,但激情很快就蒸发掉了。”

But for now, at least, most government leaders have seen a surge in popular support as they combat a natural calamity that has wreaked havoc, even if sometimes made worse by their own inaction or miscalculation.


One might expect competent leadership to benefit more. That has been largely the case in countries, particularly in northern Europe, which imposed tough measures early that allowed them to start reopening tentatively this week.



Alessandro Grassani for The New York Times

In Austria, where returning workers are required to wear masks, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s approval has risen to 77 percent, up 33 points. Similarly, Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands has 75 percent support, up 30 points.

在要求返岗工人戴口罩的奥地利,总理塞巴斯蒂安·库尔兹(Sebastian Kurz)的支持率上升了33%,达到77%。同样,荷兰总理马克·鲁特(Mark Rutte)也获得75%的支持,比之前上升了30点。

As some children return to school and her government prepares Danes for a phased reopening that could take many months, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen’s support is up 40 points, to 79 percent.

随着一些儿童重返校园,以及丹麦政府为可能持续数月的分阶段重新开放作准备,总理梅特·弗雷德里克森(Mette Frederiksen)的支持增加了40点,达到79%。

The virus has even managed to revive the lame-duck government in Germany, which had been shedding support to both the Greens and the far right. Support for Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose performance has been mostly applauded both inside and outside the country, has risen 11 points, to 79 percent.

病毒甚至成功地使德国的“跛脚鸭”政府得到复兴,这个政府的支持率曾一直在下降,流入绿党和极右翼党派。总理安格拉·默克尔(Angela Merkel)的支持率增加了11个百分点,达到79%,她的表现在德国内外都受到了广泛好评。

But even in the countries hardest hit by the virus, leaders have also gotten a boost, in ways that at first glance would not seem to make perfect sense.


Italy has the highest death toll in the world behind the United States, and the government seemed to fumble through a piecemeal response that was always a step behind the virus. But Mr. Conte has seen his overall approval rating soar.



Andrew Testa for The New York Times

“In a warlike situation, you want to trust who governs you, and that goes for bad leaders and competent ones,’’ said Nathalie Tocci, director of Italy’s Institute of International Affairs. “But my hunch is that ultimately true colors will show.’’

“在战争般的情况下,你希望对你的领导者抱有信任,不管是糟糕的领导者还是有能力的领导者,”意大利国际事务研究所(Institute of International Affairs)所长纳塔莉·托西(Nathalie Tocci)表示。“但我的直觉是,最终会真相大白。”

Already there are signs that some leaders are slipping from their peaks as public patience wears thin.


In the case of Mr. Macron, who acknowledged mistakes as he announced an extension of France’s lockdown this week, polls show him back down to 43 percent from 59 percent on March 13, the highest rating of his administration.


“Macron has never been much above 25 percent,” said Christian Lequesne, a professor of European Politics at Sciences Po, citing the Yellow Vest movement, union unhappiness with economic reforms, and a popular perception that Mr. Macron is more a man of the banks than of the people.

“马克龙从来没怎么超过25%,”巴黎政治学院(Sciences Po)的欧洲政治学教授克里斯蒂安·勒凯纳(Christian Lequesne)说,并提及黄背心运动、工会对经济改革的不满以及人们普遍认为马克龙更像是为银行服务而不是为人民。


Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

“The French are beginning to focus on the frustrations, like the lack of masks and were we prepared for such a pandemic,” Mr. Lequesne said. “I’m sure when the lockdown is finished those questions will immediately be put into public debate, and it will be in the interest of opposition parties to blame the government.”


Mr. Macron’s presumed presidential opponent, Marine Le Pen of the far-right, populist National Rally, has been largely quiet in this time of national trauma, Mr. Lequesne said. “But when she speaks, she stresses the mask issue, the inability to manage the situation, and argues that we should have shut the borders completely.”

马克龙总统竞选的潜在对手是极右翼民粹主义政党国民大会(National Rally)的马琳·勒庞(Marine Le Pen),在国家遭受创伤的这段时间里,她基本上保持着安静,莱奎内说。“但她发言时强调了口罩问题以及对控制局势的无能,并主张我们应该彻底关闭边境。”

The crisis surrounding the coronavirus has produced much the same pattern as more violent conflict, when shows of support are typically immediate, if ephemeral.


In October 1979, President Jimmy Carter had a 31 percent approval rating. But after the siege of the U.S. Embassy in Iran, his approval hit 58 percent in January 1980. Mr. Carter was defeated by Ronald Reagan that November.

1979年10月,吉米·卡特(Jimmy Carter)总统的支持率为31%。但是在美国驻伊朗大使馆被包围之后,他的支持率在1980年1月达到58%。那年11月,卡特被罗纳德·里根(Ronald Reagan)击败。

President George Bush’s approval rating rose from 58 percent in January 1991 to 87 percent after he drove Iraqi forces out of Kuwait. But he lost in 1992 to Bill Clinton.

将伊拉克人赶出科威特之后,乔治·布什(George Bush)总统的支持率从1991年1月的58%上升到87%。但他在1992年输给了比尔·克林顿(Bill Clinton)。

President George W. Bush had a 51 percent approval rating in a Gallup poll just before Sept. 11, 2001. By the end of the month, his approval rating hit 90 percent. He narrowly won re-election three years later.

在2001年“9·11”事件之前的盖洛普民意测验中,乔治·W·布什(George W. Bush)总统的支持率为51%。那个月底,他的支持率达到90%。三年后,他仅以微弱优势再次当选。

Mr. Trump’s smaller than expected bump given the coronavirus has made him something of an outlier. While other world leaders are reaching highs in the 70 percent range, his approval ratings hover between 40 and 45 percent, reflecting his strong base but also widespread criticism of his performance.


One “positive” result of the virus, Ms. Tocci said, may be the discrediting of populism and a return to trust in expertise and more rational government.



Max Whittaker for The New York Times

“The whole nationalist populist surge was connected to an historical moment where you could afford to play with fire,” she noted. ‘‘But now the situation is really bad, so much more dangerous, and people don’t want the easy nonsense from media-savvy populists.”


She cited polls showing that Matteo Salvini, the noisy Italian populist, has been losing support on the right, while another far-right opposition politician, Giorgia Meloni, “on the rational, coolheaded, nonpopulist right,” has done better.

她引用的民意调查显示,聒噪的意大利民粹主义者马泰奥·萨尔维尼(Matteo Salvini)正在失去右派支持,而另一名极右翼反对派政治人物乔治娅·梅洛尼(Giorgia Meloni)“在理性、冷静、非民粹主义的右派当中”支持率有所上升。

Much of the public reaction may ultimately depend on how long the sense of crisis lasts, the onslaught of the virus being uncertain and open-ended. The unlocking of the lockdown will itself be fraught with political danger.


“Though we see these leaders making decisions, they’re not making them from a position of strength, but from uncertainty and weakness,” said Nicholas Dungan, a Paris-based senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.

“尽管我们看到这些领导人在做决定,但他们的决定不是发自一种实力地位,而是出于不确定性和虚弱,”大西洋理事会(Atlantic Council)驻巴黎高级研究员尼古拉斯·邓根(Nicholas Dungan)表示。

“They’re not leading so much as administering,” he said. “And once people are out and about, and not confined anymore doing their duty, people are going to be quite angry, and this will lead to greater instability.”


Tony Travers, professor of government at the London School of Economics, noted that Winston Churchill was revered for having presided over the victory over Hitler, but was summarily tossed out of office in 1945.

伦敦政治经济学院(London School of Economics)政府学教授托尼·特拉弗斯(Tony Travers)指出,温斯顿·丘吉尔(Winston Churchill)因领导了击败希特勒的战争而受到尊敬,但他在1945年马上就被赶下台。

“Winning a war is absolutely no recipe for staying in office,” Mr. Travers said. “When the threat of illness goes away, then the consequences of being protected from the threat are very different.”


Governments will have to decide how to stagger a return to relative normality and how to deal with the emotional issues of inequality, unemployment and debt that will surge to the fore of the political debate.


“When we come out of this, the reckoning will start,” said Robin Niblett, director of the British foreign policy research institute Chatham House. “When people realize the expense, there will be questions of who gets taxed, how much the state owns, and how much will people chafe against the controls,” he said.

“当我们走出困境时,清算就将开始,”英国查塔姆研究所(Chatham House)外交政策研究部门负责人罗宾·尼布利特(Robin Niblett)表示。“当人们意识到这些损失时,就会产生这样的问题:谁该被抽税,国家拥有多少财富,以及人们会对这些的控制措施产生多大的不满。”


Andrea Mantovani for The New York Times

Much remains unclear, across the world but “there is the potential for some serious political wind shears,” Mr. Niblett said. “Leaders are going to have a very rocky time toward autumn as the bills get delivered.”